Last Friday, some of my friends invited me to join them on a day trip to Viterbo. We got there by train, which was easy to catch at the metro station nearby. Viterbo is an excellent city to explore, and we couldn’t even scratch the surface with the limited time we had there. There are hot springs, vineyards, and medieval architecture all around. It was refreshing to spend some time in a different part of Italy with its own unique history and lifestyle.
The part of the adventure that most sticks out in my mind was when we went to an “Aperativo” for food before getting on the train to head back. An Aperativo roughly translates as a buffet. Bars set them up in the evening. For a set price, you can get one drink and choose what you want to eat from the buffet of freshly cooked food.
Word about these Aperativos spread through Temple students some weeks ago. They are a popular looking meal option because of the buffet style. At first glance, it seems like an excellent way to eat as much as you could want with a minimum price. However, things are not as simple as they seem…
Some Aperativos have the customer pay the set price before picking out the food. This Aperativo gave us the check after we ate. When we looked at the check, we were shocked and confused. What should have been a total of 35 euros for everyone total, was 60 euros. We weren’t sure why this was. Our waitress had said something to one of the people in our group, suggesting that we order more drinks because we had “eaten too much”. We didn’t know what she meant at the time, but later it all fit together…
When we asked the waitress why we were charged so much, she explained that is was because we had eaten so much from the buffet. Yes, the Aperativo only charges a low flat rate for access to the buffet, but Italian buffet culture is different from American buffet culture. In Italy, the buffet is not ‘all you can eat’. Instead, there is an unspoken rule that you can go back for seconds, but not thirds or fourths. This cultural rule is enforced by the honor system. There is no set amount of food allotted, but there is a cultural understanding about what is too much to take. The Aperativo is seen as a snacking place, not a ‘stuff yourself of all the food you can eat’ place. Italian culture is not used to American stomachs and appetite.
My friend Andrew realized, immediately after the waitress explained it, what was happening. He said basically “We are in the wrong with eating all that food and expecting to pay the flat 5 euro rate. This is the way their culture works, and we have to abide by their culture because we live here”.
We payed the extra euros. I realized then how much small cultural differences can really make a foreign country a very alien place to live if people aren’t familiar with the culture. I was also amazed that the many cultural differences between Italian and American culture. There are more differences than I expected there to be, and many I haven’t learned about yet.
The experience with the Aperativo taught me something about Italian culture that I wouldn’t have known otherwise. I feel that it is very important to be as aware as possible about the culture of the place you are living in. We are guest here in Italy, and it is not our place to impose our culture. It is not our place to eat like ravenous college students at an Aperativo. Having knowledge about these little cultural differences makes living here much easier, and I hope to learn more about the Italian culture everyday I’m here.